31 December 2011

2011: Later, gator!

Well, 2011 has crept out of my life.  The year was chuggling along smoothly with surprising new reads (I finally hopped on the A Song of Ice and Fire bandwagon and remembered that romance novels aren't quite that bad when I need a reading boost) and surprising talents (I wrote a book - almost done with draft 6 and feeling like I might, just might, let other people read it) when December hit. 

My world shattered into a thousand tiny pieces when my mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor December 4.  Things still haven't settled after three weeks of crazy but we are moving forward.  The surgeons did a fantastic resection, Mom is recovering well, and the radiation and chemotherapy schedule is set to start January 4.  The path ahead of her is uncertain but she has good doctors and therapists and we're going to put up one hell of a fight.

In the middle of all this, the poor little book blog gets neglected.  I still haven't caught up with my reviews.  Oops.  Being a reader I was presented with a dilemma.  I could (a) write my reviews (which takes about 30-45 minutes/review depending on what I have to say), (b) read a book, or (c) edit my own book.  It's safe to say that (b) and (c) won out, with (c) taking a bit of an edge because I almost didn't finish the biggest, but simplest, challenge I ever signed up for.

The Goodreads Challenge

I said I would read 100 books this year.  I've wanted to do this for several years now and always fell short.  Goodreads's little challenge seemed well within my reach...until I started writing.  I didn't read a book for weeks unless you count constant re-reads of my own poor manuscript, quibbling over the placement of a "her". 

But I did it.  I read 100 books.  In fact, I read 102 books.  *cue trumpets*








I liked most of what I read (five stars is "amazing", four stars is "I really liked it", three stars is "it was good/ok/readable", two stars is "meh/uninteresting", and one star is "I really wanted to light this on fire" - I have no one star books because those books I usually don't finish reading and don't bother to review most of the time):











According to Goodreads the longest book I read was A Storm of Swords (according to me, I think it was A Dance with Dragons, but that's probably a quibble over format and the ebook format didn't have any pages listed for ASOS so I had to make do with the MM format just to get page counts).  My favorite book this year is either One of Our Thursdays is Missing, Shatter Me, A Game of Thrones (probably that whole series because I went on a serious binge), or The Wierd Sisters.  I never can decide. 

Also, according to Goodreads I read 32,330 pages this year.  Excuse me while I peel my contact lenses out of my dry little eyes.  I actually read faster on my nooks (yes, I said nooks because there are several...pardon me while I go beat down Mr. Collins) - if I don't have to turn a real page then I don't have to move my eyeballs and, somehow, that turns into reading faster.  Craze-balls.

I finally read some Jane Austen off-shoots (thanks to Sourcebooks' wonderful ebook sales during December - JA's birthday month) and remembered that, while I really, really still don't like Austen variations/sequels/straight-up modern re-tellings, I do like clever adaptations (cf: Bridget Jones's Diary and Clueless).  I find that I enjoy stories that use JA as a jumping off point (like A Weekend with Mr. Darcy) rather than one of her novels as a skeleton.  My reading of the collection Jane Austen Made Me Do It added more evidence for that conclusion.

I did some re-reading, too.  I picked up Thurber's The Thirteen Clocks (the NYRB Classics re-issue) and read it aloud to my kitty-boys one evening during a storm.  I pulled out my D'Aulaires (also re-issued by NYRB Classics) when I needed some inspiration from Norse mythology  I turned to Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series (with Eloise and Colin and flowery Regency spies) because Letty and Arabella are good friends in a pinch.  And my beloved Jane bolstered me with Pride and Prejudice when I inclined to insomnia due to worrying over Mom.

Other challenges...well, I sorta failed.  The Booker Challenge?  I had good intentions but barely scratched the surface.  I only read one Newbery book (yet to be reviewed).  Only one Best American.  Boo.  Fail, fail, fail.

My trouble is the writing.  What I read seeps into what I write.  Not a bad thing, necessarily (I generally find that authors who cop to the whole "I couldn't possibly sully my process by reading other people's stuff" attitude have the most ghastly prose), but when one realizes that she has unconsciously appropriated key words and phrases from well-known authors...and those words/phrases are unique to said authors' worldbuilding...one starts to sweat just a little.  And stop reading.  (This is where the romance novels come in...they somehow don't affect the writing and saved my bacon with the Goodreads challenge).

But enough about 2011.  On to 2012!

I, Juan de Pareja

I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de TrevinoI am woefully behind in my Newbery project!  Only one book this year!  The 1966 winner of the Newbery Medal.

I, Juan de Pareja is the imagined autobiography of real-life painter Juan de Pareja.  Juan was born a slave of mixed-race in seventeenth-century Spain and willed to master painter Diego Velasquez on the death of his mistress, becoming Velasquez's assistant. He was later freed and became a respected painter in his own right (The Calling of St.Matthew is his most famous work, apparently on display at the Prado but I can't get a link for it). 

de Trevino's rendition of Juan (or Juanico, the diminutive used for much of the book) presents him as a an open, good-hearted boy, a good Catholic, and an earnest servant with some self-awareness that he is different from Spanish servants.  As a young man he becomes more aware of his situation as a slave.  Although he does not actively rebel against "the system", there is some feeling of injustice or unfairness in how he can be owned simply for being dark-skinned and born of a woman enslaved. 

The best passages of the book come from Juan's budding fascination with painting and his attempts to learn to paint as Velasquez does although the slavery laws forbid it.  Juan's awe at how Velasquez used light and dark in the paintings, how the colors were mixed, can be shared by the reader.  I don't paint or draw and I felt awestruck just reading the imagined depiction of Velasquez's studio.

This book is not a fast read despite being fairly short.  I think it would be of good use in a unit on slavery to show that the concept was not limited to certain parts of the world and to introduce the historical foundations of racism and slavery.

Now for the vocabulary - there were so many words!  Some are in Spanish or have a religious or historical origin.  Definitely a good book for making word-lists:

laboriously, siesta, sweetmeats, mantilla, mangy, urchin, rosary, melodious, vestments, deceit, maravedis, constricted, cipher, ignominy, conviction (idea, not jail), sullenly, niggardly, coddled egg, morsel, frugal, Damascu paper, capricious, dictated, "Ay de mi", taciturn, fretful, portended, premonition, miser, penury, Romany, subservient, crony, scourged, real (coin), zaguau, prophetic, intuitive, retching, ravenously, "Quien?", pattered, magistrate, tottering, convent, mortars, apprentice, obligated, commissions, taffeta, azure, schemer, copyist, scrivener, dais, vulgar, frivolous, inconspicuously, corpulence, puritanical, parasite, stripling, indefatigable, sanctity, shriven, manumission, slap-dash, departure, jovial, craggy, impetuous, retinue, unguents, encysted, despondency, repentence, temerity, wallowing, miasma, ominously, swart, obeisances, coolly dispassionate, Regent, cosset, meticulous, adulation, communicant, scrupulous, treachery

Whew!

29 December 2011

Bonk: a mini-review

Bonk is a really good general-audience science book, not only for the information it conveys but also for highlighting the issues of pure research vs industry-driven and the fact that homo sapiens still have a lot of hang-ups (for realz). When you (and your spouse) have to volunteer as subjects for a 4D ultrasound of human sexual activity just to see what goes on, you deserve a medal.

Bonk also has an interesting dichotomy in the scientific material Roach quotes and presents and the hilarious footnotes highlighting some of the crap she found surfing the 'Net.

28 December 2011

Geek Girls Unite: Mini-review

Saw this on the non-fiction new paperback table at work and I was like, "My people, yes, we must unite!!"

And then I read it...this is not a uniting-type of book.  Should have read the reviews first.

I'm feeling a combination of "meh" and "I feel trivialized by the very book that is supposed to celebrate my peeps".  I did NOT appreciate the snarkiness of the quizzes and frenemies sections (and, for a book that asks in the introduction that we all be more accepting of one another, it gets pretty mean at times).  The chapters were really repetitive and this felt less like a celebration of geek-girl culture and more like a humorous attempt to put us into neat little boxes.  It has excellent lists of websites, books, and movies (although some did start to feel condescending at times) but loses over the annoying footnotes.

Still not sure how we will take over the world. That part wasn't very clear.

25 December 2011

God bless us, everyone!

Merry Christmas!



My family was so thankful this year for one very good reason:


Mom (and yes, that's the hat I started knitting when she was in the SICU).  We got to have her for about six hours today for the Christmas holiday and it was so nice to have her home for a little while - it was the best present of all.  She'll be discharged from rehab on Wednesday!! 


So to quote Tiny Tim:  God bless us, everyone.

22 December 2011

'Tis the Season: Are we there, yet?

The bookstore has been batshit crazy as of late.  People have suddenly remembered THEY NEED TO BUY CHRISTMAS PRESENTS and RIGHT NOW!  Which is a) a good thing for business, but b) kindergarten rules apply at the bookstore:

1.  If you (as a customer) see me (a bookseller) woking with another customer (showing him/her books, listening as the customer describes what he/she is looking for, looking something up on the computer while said customer looks over my shoulder, etc) DO NOT butt into the bookseller-customer conversation by saying "I just have a question."  Congratulations, so does the person I am currently helping.  Now you look like an inconsiderate jerk and makes me not want to help you at all.  The only exceptions are emergencies like "Call 911!", "I think there's a fire!", "I'm having a heart attack!", or "I lost my child!"  Trust me - I, and my fellow booksellers, will drop everything to help you in those situations.  Your need to find Paula Deen's Southern Cooking Bible does not constitute an emergency.

2.  Remember having to line up to go to the lunchroom?  The same principles apply to queue lines during Christmas (or any time of the year, really, and are totally not limited to bookstores).  Line-jumping because you are "in a hurry" only gets you redirected to the back of the line.  Pretty sure the people who lined up politely are also "in a hurry" but will be put-out because you budged in front of them.  And some of those polite customers are vocal if you do!

For the chuckles, some random gems from the season:
  • "I need a copy of Wine Spectacular."  (How about Wine Spectator?)
  • "Does the Elf on the Shelf come with the shelf?"  (Er, no.)
  • Related:  "Elf on the Shelf looks like it was resurrected from my Grandma's garage sale." (I completely agree...tacky and creepy...yet, I must sell them, boo.)
  • "Do you sell Wal-mart gift cards?"  (No, Wal-mart's up the road.)
  • "Do you sell Amazon gift cards?"  (This one always tempts me to just be really rude.)
  • "Do you have my class textbooks?"  (It was finals last week.  Some college student just assumed we would have copies of her $300 economics textbook on hand for her to use.  Because we're the library, donchaknow.)
  • "I need the book for the TV show."  (For serious, which TV show?  Game of ThronesThe Walking DeadSimpsonsMad MenDownton Abbey?)
  • "Do you have books about South Carolina ghost stories?"  (Says the customer with the "Shop Locally" button from the Chamber of Commerce; dudes, we are in IOWA...unless you want Flannery O'Connor, which is about as close as I can come with on-hand stock, we have to get that from one of the stores in South Carolina.  It took nearly 10 minutes for me to convince her that paying for the item in store and having it shipped directly to the recipient from our warehouse was equivalent to "Shopping Locally".)
  • "I need a book for my [insert middle-grade age here] grandson/granddaughter.  He's/She's an advanced reader."  (They're ALL advanced readers, every single one of them, yet when I actually get books that would be high school level - which is the level claimed - for a fifth grader those are always "too hard"; be honest with yourself and pick out something the child will actually read.)
  • "Do you have an abridged version of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone?"  (Considering thsi is a children's book, written around a 4th grade reading level...no...but I do have a Sparknotes if you'd like that instead.)
  • "I want the English translation of Romeo and Juliet for my daughter in high school."  (Must. Control. Fist. Of. Death.  Please, take this No Fear Shakespeare edition and run before the literature snob comes bursting out of my chest to hurl vitriol at you.)
  • "Do you sell athletic socks?" (Not yet.)
  • "Do you have The Self?" (This was a toughie...after going around and around with some questions, I figured out she wanted The Help.)
  • "Do you have the book I Killed Lincoln?"  (Close...so very close....)
  • "This book is too long."  (It's George RR Martin, what did you expect?  We've only been waiting for YEARS for it.  Also, this was said about the new Stephen King...nothing out of the ordinary there, either.)
  • "This book doesn't have a Lexile score."  (Take it up with Lexile - and then tell your child's teacher to stop relying on a computerized system that downgrades Hemingway because he uses short sentences and won't score books in blank verse because the computer can't "analyze" them.)

Bonus:  Overhead at the hospital on Hanukkah:  "That's a mariachi band - it has an accordion." (No, that's a klezmer band - accordions are not exclusive to South of the Border.)

Gratuitous Cat Picture Friday (6): Stuck on you



Poor Dante.  He's so staticky right now - rolling around on the floor caused all the paper bits from punching my own gift tags to stick to him (there're lots more on his tummy but he wouldn't let me take a picture).

21 December 2011

Surprises from my Secret Santa!

I received my Secret Santa package about a week ago but I've been really remiss in blogging about it (particularly as I would remember while at work and had no picture of what I actually received).

Well, my SS was Jill of Book, Books Everywhere and just look what was in my package!




Talk about getting spoiled!  I almost cried when I opened the box.  She sent EL Doctorow's Ragtime (something I keep thinking I have then get home and realize I don't have it), Tasha Alexander's And Only to Deceive (my SIL says those are good), Richard Paul Evan's The Christmas List, and Patricia Miller Mauro's Safe from the Past AND chocolate (yum, yum).  Thanks so much, Jill!  This December has been hard, what with Mom's diagnosis and surgery and all (she's doing so well, we're all so thankful), so a lovely box of Christmas cheer and book love was just what I needed. 

Thank you many times!  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Weekend With Mr. Darcy

Having read through two Austen-inspired books - and been rather underwhelmed - I tried out a third purchase from the Sourcebooks sale.

Victoria Connelly's A Weekend With Mr. Darcy follows Jane Austen addicts at a conference.

Huzzah, these are my people!! An Austenesque novel that neither a) fails miserably in execution or b) stuffs enough sex scenes into the narrative to make even a Regency Rake want to take a powder (because that's what an Austen variation/re-telling needs - lots and lots of uncomfortable sex).

At first, I wasn't quite sure where Robyn fit into the narrative (and the beginning was a little pokey) but once all the characters got to Purley Hall for the Jane Austen Conference things started to pick up. It's easy to teAt last. An Austenesque novel that neither a) fails miserably in execution or b) stuffs enough sex scenes into the narrative to make even a Regency Rake want to take a powder (because that's what an Austen variation/re-telling needs - lots and lots of uncomfortable sex).

Oxford professor of English Katherine Roberts is off to attend the Jane Austen Addicts...and to meet her favorite author, Lorna Warwick.  The famously reclusive Warwick writes the Regency bodice-rippers Katherine is addicted to but Katherine is in for a surprise - the author she corresponds with is really Warwick Lawton...a man.

Robyn Love is saddled with a big problem, two actually: a Jane Austen addiction and a dead-beat boyfriend.  She feels unappreciated and jumps at the chance to attend the conference, a weekend to find other kindred spirits.  Can she find herself, too?

At first, I wasn't quite sure where Robyn fit into the narrative (and the beginning was a little pokey) but once all the characters got to Purley Hall for the conference things started to pick up. It's easy to tell Connelly is a Janeite - she knows all the books, variations, adaptations (and they're almost all named-checked in the book as are the real books/movies) - and she gives the reader the best and worst of the breed. The narrative nods to the plot of Pride and Prejudice in places but takes the bones that it needs for plot and leaves the rest. Kudos also to keeping the falling action of the book from becoming overlong, stopping at just the right place.

If you're like me, and have been wondering where to start to find an entree into Austen-inspired fiction, definitely take a look at A Weekend With Mr. Darcy

20 December 2011

A Life in Stitches: Knitting My Way Through Love, Loss, and Laughter

It's strange how my reading and my life intersect.

I picked up Rachael Herron's A Life in Stitches on a whim because it has writing about knitting (I'm an easy mark). 

And somewhere in the middle it hit me in the gut.  She was writing about her mom and my mom was sick...wow, too much coincidence.  But this is a short book and other essays - making a canary-yellow sweater, an afghan for a boyfriend which backfires, pets - held me over when things started becoming too much.

This is a great book of essays about not just knitting but finding an activity that impacts your life in a positive way.

The Man Who Loved Price and Prejudice

Austen birthday sale book number 2!

Now, The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice is billed as a love story with a Jane Austen twist.  I can handle that.  The story of Cassie (marine biologist) and Calder (his father is a senator...one of those senators with Old Money and a big ego) falls squarely in the category of contemporary romance:  she's mega-smart, has a unique job, and is effortlessly gorgeous, he's standoffish, rich, and HOT ergo they will have some sort of conflict and then wind up together.

Pretty nice, right?  And it was a nice story with a good writing style...until a zillion loads of dirty laundry got in the way (his and hers).   At some point the storyline gets really complicated with pen names, social/class issues, spousal abuse issues, research funding problems, and so on - I really couldn't keep track.  The falling action was so drawn out that the last 50 or so pages seemed unneccesary.  It definitely could have used some cuts.  (I also thought that Calder's book - it supplants Darcy's letter to Lizzy - could have been much better written if all he was doing was modernizing Austen to apologize to Cassie).

Unless I missed it, I don't think it's explained why Calder is "The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice"....

15 December 2011

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star: in which I start dabbling in Austen-derived fiction

So, Sourcebooks had a "Jane Austen's birthday" sale (which I posted about) and I decided to try on JA inspired fiction/fan-fiction/modernizations for size.  Which I lump together as "Austenesque" books for lack of a better term.

I had heard bits and bobs about Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star in the blogosphere so I decided to try this version of rich-nineteenth-century-gentleman-translated-as-rock-star first (and, for the record, I'm just going to assume that everyone has read Pride and Prejudice so none of the actual plot points are spoilers).

So, Darcy, Bingley, and their cousin Richard Fitzwilliam (the cousin who appears at Rosings in P&P) make up Slurry and they are in desperate need of an opening act for their tour.  Lizzy, Jane, and Charlotte front a "girl-band" (hate that term) called Long Borne Suffering (haha) and, conveniently, Slurry is near-enough to see them play a gig.  Conveniently for the plot, LBS is booked for the tour and the major character quirks (Darcy is standoffish, Jane and Bingley have instant attraction, Lizzy enjoys needling Darcy) easily translate from the book.  Tour and marriage plots ensue.

What I enjoyed most were some really good plot changes.  Charlotte and Richard are fleshed out, Mr. Collins is actually called-out for taking advantage of a situation, Lydia's subplot is downgraded since she only appears in a handful of scenes, and Caroline Bingley is a much nicer person.  I think the stressors of a new band jumping into the deep end with a major tour were shown adequately and Rigaud didn't shy away from the anonymous sex-and-drugs pull of the music world.   

And then there were some plot decisions that really made no sense. Wickham's prediliction for "ladies with learner's permits" (a la Georgiana's story, which is retained for the book) turns into a drug problem out of nowhere (and gets an FBI plot thrown in for good measure).  The Bennets' marriage issues are only alluded to (the Bennet parents and younger siblings hardly figure in the story) and could have done away with entirely and saved about 20 pages in total.  Richard gets a sex addiction plot (hey, Lizzy/Darcy and Jane/Bingley have built-in conflict courtesy of P&P, he and Charlotte have to fight about something).  Original names are retained (Fitzwilliam? Really? Lady Catherine is still, inexplicably, referred to as Lady Catherine yet she's not referred to as English in any way).  And the triple marriage plot is really unbelievable in a modern sense.

And then there are the sex scenes.  What's that you say?  Yes, there is a LOT of well-described sex in this book.  Far, far more than what I was expecting and enough to make me wonder why this book is merchandized in Fiction as opposed to Romance.  Adventurous boots-knocking occurs with regularity - Jane and Bingley, Charlotte and random person, Richard and random person(s), Richard and Charlotte, Darcy and Lizzy (and then they fight, then have more sex) - and also so discussion of previous sexual experiences (novel gains points for allowing heroines to have sexual experiences prior to the acquaintance of the heros).  The writing-style of the scenes changed, too, to a style more generic to the bodice-ripper genre.  I wouldn't have minded as much except there was a multitude of man-will-teach-woman-how-sexytimes-are-properly-done schtick...totally out of place in a contemporary novel (loses points previously gained).  The power of the Magic HooHoo and the Mighty Wang of Lovin' made obvious appearances (I've started following the Smart Bitches on twitter).

If you like a more adventurous contemporary romance novel, this is definitely for you.

14 December 2011

Sourcebooks is the place for goodies on JA's birthday!

In honor of Jane Austen's birthday (December 16) Sourcebooks is offering the ebook editions of Darcy-inspired fiction for $1.99! 

There's a "Darcy for everyone":

Darcy and Fitzwilliam
A Darcy Christmas
The Darcys and the Bingleys
Darcy's Voyage
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star
The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice
Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Mr. Darcy Goes Overboard
Mr. Darcy Takes a Wife
Mr. Darcy, Vampyre
The Pemberley Chronicles
Pemberley Ranch
Searching for Pemberley
The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy

I picked up Fitzwilliam Darcy, Rock Star, The Man Who Loved Pride and Prejudice, Searching for Pemberley, and Weekend with Mr. Darcy (not listed on the Sourcebooks page but found for $1.99 when I ran "sourcebooks+darcy" into the B&N search engine).  I find that I enjoy the Austen-inspired stuff more when they use the works for inspriation as opposed to writing "sequels" or "variations" with the original characters and settings.

The special pricing runs through December 30 so get 'em while they're hot!

(I also picked up Penguin's Holiday eSampler for free...just in case you're looking for more holiday deals.)

09 December 2011

A hat for my mother

I am knitting a hat.

I am knitting a hat using a pattern I like.

I am knitting a hat using a pattern I like out of a yarn I loathe. 

I am knitting a hat using a pattern I like out of a yarn I loathe because I am sitting in the waiting room of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit waiting to go back and see my mother.

I am knitting a hat using a pattern I like out of a yarn I loathe because I am sitting in the waiting room of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit waiting to go back and see my mother because my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor less than a week ago and underwent brain surgery yesterday.

My mother needs a hat.

My mother is allergic to wool.

This yarn is acrylic. I hate acrylic.  It's a royal pain in the ass to cable with and it feels wierd.

But my mother needs a hat when she goes home because it is December in Iowa.  It is cold and I don't want her head to be cold. 

It took two hours of searching through my stash two days ago trying to find a non-wool yarn because I didn't have time to go to the yarn store.  It took two hours because I was crying so hard I couldn't see.

My mother has one of the best neurosurgeons available.  I know he does great work.  I know he does great work because I work at this hospital.  I know the SICU nurses are the best nurses you could find anywhere.  I know because I have worked with them on some of our research studies.  I know they will take good care of my mother.  I work here and I have made sure she is getting the best care anyone could ever find.  I know all of this and I am scared as hell.

I am wearing my staff ID and pager like a shield.  I slept with my pager last night, a talisman against the phone call in the night.  I work at this hospital and they will take good care of my mother.  They will.  I tell myself that with almost every stitch of this yarn that sticks to my fingers as I knit.  I tell myself this as I struggle to make this inflexible yarn work a C10F or C10B.  Every single stitch of this infernal yarn keeps my mother here.

This yarn is acrylic. I hate acrylic. It's a royal pain in the ass to cable with and it feels wierd, but it is going to be a hat for my mother whether it wants to or not.  When it's a hat, I will find time to go to the yarn store and get some natural-fiber, warm, non-sheep yarn and do the hat over again.

Because my mother needs a hat and she is allergic to wool.  I take a deep breath at the end of each row of stiff stitches and give thanks that my mother has come through surgery with flying colors.  The road ahead is still bumpy, though, and she will need a hat.  Many hats.  As many hats in as many colors as she wants, as fast as I can knit them for her.  Because she's my mommy and I still need my mommy.

So....I am knitting a hat using a pattern I like out of a yarn I loathe because I am sitting in the waiting room of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit waiting to go back and see my mother because my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor less than a week ago and underwent brain surgery yesterday and she will need a hat when she goes home.

20 November 2011

Romantic Fairy Tales (Penguin Classics)

This is Romantic with the capital "R", for the literature movement, not romantic because of any marriage plot.

We received this into the store and I promptly bought a copy because it appealed to my need to "tell a story."  I was having a little trouble plotting my book so found myself open to a little inspiration from Goethe.

This collection of four traditional fairy tales (as in, the Kunstmarchen versions - they aren't pretty) is edited by Carol Lisa Tully.  It includes:

Goethe's Fairy Tale (1795)
Ludwig Tieck's Eckbert the Fair (1797)
Friedrich de la Motte Fouque's Undine (1811)
Clemens Bretano's The Tale of Honest Casper and Fair Annie (1817)

Murder, incest, wood nymphs, sex (and stand-ins for sex), the supernatural, and one seriously misplaced sense of honor...come and get it!

14 November 2011

Solves that question....

So last week when I blogged about QR Markham's plagiarism I wondered whether he was punking us or just plain stupid.

GalleyCat reported that Markham (or Quentin Rowan as was) explained his reasons in an email to novelist Jeremy Duns.

After reading said "reasons" my vote is now for "just plain stupid" (additionally, that is the lamest set of excuses, ever).

11 November 2011

Gratuitous Cat Picture Friday (5): Hai!

Oh, hai!  Wut r u doin mom?


Chaucer looked like a jack-in-the-box, repeatedly popping his head up from behind the laptop to look at me.

10 November 2011

NC-17: Yes, please!

Steve McQueen's new movie Shame - about a New York man's sex-addiction problem, portrayed by Michael Fassbender - has received an NC-17 rating for "some explicit sexual content" (it's pretty well-publicized that there is full-frontal nudity).  The rating isn't terribly surprising to me.  The MPAA has had its collective head buried up its tailpipe for years and movie theatre chains treat the ratings as marketing tools.  I knew since the project was announced I'd have to wait and catch Shame on either Netflix or just buy the DVD because, although I live in a pretty progressive college town, both large theatres are owned by chains and we don't have a good indie/art house movie theatre (the Bijou on the University campus does it's best but it only has one screen and limited seating).  Y'all have seen this rant before back when Jane Eyre released.

What surprised me, and I completely applaud McQueen and Fox Searchlight for the decision, is that the rating will stand.  They aren't appealing or re-cutting the movie to get it down to an R.  The movie is what it is - a raw, unflinching portrait of a successful, polished man with a secret whose world comes crashing down when his sister winds up moving with him.  It can't be told with innuendo and still get the same emotional impact.  Besides - and get this, movie theatre chain owners - in no way do I want to watch this movie with a pack of immature teens.  This is not a movie you watch just to see some hotties in the buff* (and if that's the reason you want to see it, I think you'll be bored).  McQueen's earlier film Hunger (also starring Michael Fassbender) is also a raw, unflinching film with a good deal of male nudity but it's also violent, brutal to the point of savagery.  Watching naked men getting beaten and violated (and staving themselves to death) is not sexy.**

HixFix.com has a great interview with Carey Mulligan (she plays Fassbender's troubled sister) where she expresses irritation over the NC-17 rating - not because the film has nude scenes, but because those nude scenes aren't "sexy":
“You know, so many of the teen movies will have so much sex and so many people walking around in bikinis and bare-breasted and that all seems to be okay. And then the minute you show it and its not funny, and it's not sexy, and it's actually unattractive, then it becomes a problem, which seems so odd."
The article points out that Shame has no more physical nudity than Forgetting Sarah Marshall which earned an R rating.


So, bring it, NC-17 rating.  I am totally down with it.

*Er, I will grant you that Michael Fassbender nude is a plus in my book.  He is easy on the eyes.  But that's not the reason to see either Hunger or Shame.  Sort of like Daniel Craig in Love is the Devil where he played Derek Jacobi's boyfriend - yeah, he's in his birthday suit for a few scenes, and he's got a good body, but the scenes aren't titillating.

**However, violence against women - especially sexualized violence - always seems to get a pass.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (curently not yet rated) will probably get an R rating even though Lisbeth experiences a horrific rape scene (if you've read the books you'll know what I mean).  That movie ought to be an NC-17 for the violence alone.

08 November 2011

Tsk, tsk, they never learn, or do they?

This week Twitter lit up with the revelation that a new, well-received spy novel - QR Markham's Assassin of Secrets - was heavily lifted from other spy novels (including James Bond, to which the book was compared).  Little, Brown recalled the entire print run (The Book Bench blog at the New Yorker summarizes and muses on the situation well).  Ed Rants went on a hunt for the lifted passages and found so many from different sources that the plagiarised novel is looking more and more like a collage.

My question is, how did Markham think no one would ever find the lifted sections?  It's not like he ripped off an obscure, out-of-print-and-copyright novel that few would remember.  He lifted from Geoffrey O'Brien, Charles McCarry, and John Gardner (according to Halford a whole six page stretch was lifted from a Gardner novel).  People obviously still read and are fans of those authors.  Pulling stupid stunts like this really gives both the author and publisher a black eye.  The editor and publisher especially for not catching the plagiarism beforehand. 

Conversely, is Markham doing this on purpose?  An article he wrote for HuffPo (which has since been pulled) was largely cobbled together from an O'Brien work.  The Paris Review ran one of his short stories in 2002 which has since been found to contain passages from a Graham Greene book.  It almost seems like he was testing the system, dipping a toe to take the temperature and see if he could slip an entire novel collated from existing novels.

If Markham is "punking" the literary world, no one is laughing.  Least of all Little, Brown.  I just want to know why - was it Markham's intent to deliberately put this book out there and see if anyone would notice or was he honestly hoping it would go under the radar so he could make more money off the series contract?

05 November 2011

Romance Benders

Lit snob confession:  I used to read romance novels a lot.  I used to sneak them from my mom's room and read all the naughty bits.  Then I read the Anne Rice Beauty trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know, the non-vampire stuff is erotica, technically, but someone thoughtfully misshelved them with some romance novels at the library) and that just about put me off my feed (also, I was about fifteen...if you haven't figured out "vanilla" yet the "banana split with whipped cream, sprinkles, and nuts" will make your hair stand on end).  So extended break from romance novels.  I was also tired of recycled plotlines.  I did get the brilliant idea to name one of my cats "Chaucer" from a romance novel (The Wedding by Jo Beverly, I think) so not entirely a bad thing.

My sister-in-law turned me onto Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series a while ago.  They are fun books to read - Regency-era flowery-named spies causing trouble for Fouche and Delaroche while protecting England from French invasions framed by the modern story of an American grad student in England trying to write her dissertation about the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation.  They are deliciously funny, Regency romance-type novels that borrow on some Austen themes (Letty's family in The Deception of the Emerald Ring is an obvious borrowing of the Bennetts from Pride and Prejudice that works well in that plot) and combine them with cheeky espionage plots.

This year, having partially OD'd on fantasy novels again (thank to GRRM) and partially fried my attention span by writing a book, I have come back around to romance novels.  Simple plots.  Mostly happy endings.  Bad guys get punished (after 4000 pages of Lannisters getting away with just about everything I needed some punished villains, let me tell you).  Poor fried brain doesn't have to think.  Additionally, I can read a 300 page romance novel in about two hours - a good thing when I'm twenty books in the hole on my goal to read 100 books this year.

Back in July, my attention was caught by The Bargain by Mary Jo Putney.  Has a good meet-cute: she needs to marry by age 25 to get her inheritance money (stupid clause in father's will), he is dying from a wound received in the Napoleonic wars.  He'll marry her, she will provide an income for his sister who's scraping along as a governess.  Good bargain, right?  Well, enter one outraged sister, a pioneering surgeon, a twist of fate...you get the picture.  It had what felt like a really rushed ending - makeup sex and an annoying epilogue.

So, ok, that was fun, right?  At the end of August I picked up The Secret Desires of a Governess by Tiffany Clare.  The governess was a fun character to root for and the book had a really nice Gothic quality to the backstory and mystery.  However, the sex scenes between hero and heroine - while crazyhotandsteamy and not completely out of place for a modern setting - felt really forced in the mid-nineteenth century setting.  A few plotholes, too.  Sort of meh.

The next month, while receiving at the bookstore, I came across Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands.  Evil stepmom betrothes sweet stepdaughter to a Scot known to be horrible, cruel, and a "devil".  Turns out the Devil (Cullen) is not bad looking and quite a considerate guy.  Seems to be mostly misunderstood.  Ok, I'll bite.  Not withstanding a re-donk-ulous meet-cute (Evelinde falls in the stream, getting banged-up in the process, tries to dry her dress by holding it over her head while riding horseback, and causes an accident with Cullen) and an extended English-girl-has-no-idea-what-is-up-with-Scots-culture scene (which is actually pretty funny, leading to a crazy someone-took-four-muscle-relaxers-type scene almost straight out of Sixteen Candles) I really liked this one.  It has a really nice little mystery to solve and is also quite funny in places.  Fun to read.

Ok, liked the historical setting, a little humor is good.  I tried out The Black Lyon by Jude Devereaux next.  I found an ancient copy while browsing at the library (the new mass market edition is much prettier) - it's about the same time period as the Sands so I figured I'd give it a shot.  While decently researched as to time period (a good book for setting, clothes, what happens at a tournament, etc.) I really didn't like the hero and heroine.  He was beyond too jealous and controlling and she was way too insecure.  Also, I didn't find this one very funny, actually pretty depressing at times.

So, that Lynsay Sands...writes a pretty good book.  Conveniently, I had put The Deed on my book clubs endcap for September (the Romantic Reads group was reading the KISS and TEAL Avon books to help raise money for ovarian cancer research) and I read a little on break one day.  The Prologue and first chapter cracked me up - poor Lady Emmalene has to petition King Richard to force her husband to bed her...and then the bugger up and dies before he can return home to do "the deed" so the King marries her to a loyal knight to both protect her from evil relatives and reward the man for saving his life.  So I fired up the nook for a purchase.  Emma is a really endearing little character - stubborn, bossy, funny, and resourceful.  Amaury isn't so bad either.  I really liked this one - even re-read it during the readathon when I had mush-brain and was too lazy to get out of bed.

I continued with my Lynsay Sands run.  The Perfect Wife is interesting in that it plays on the very modern (and very old) problem of women thinking they need to look a certain way or be a certain size to be loved by men.  Avelyn is a full-figured heroine and it's nice to see her evolve to accept herself over the course of the book.  The mystery plot got a little odd in places but the book had a good cast of characters (Lord and Lady Gerville were pretty funny at times).  Taming the Highland Bride picked up where Devil of the Highlands left off with Evelinde's brother, Alexander, marrying his betrothed, Merry Stewart, thus introducing us to her drunken family.  This one felt a little more sinister - particularly with a certain character we met in the first book and you know it isn't going to turn out well - but still a fun read.  Merry is a great character and we got to visit Evie and Cullen again.  The Hellion and the Highlander jumps to Merry's eldest brother, Kade, who has just recently returned from imprisonment in the Crusades, and his marriage to Averill (who, according to English standards, will be trouble because of her bright red hair, small strawberry birthmark, and nervous stutter but Kade's Scot sensibilities think she's wonderful).  Kade has his work cut out for him in turning the Stewart men around and Averill is a very capable heroine to match him.  They also have a very sweet relationship, defintely one that makes you go "awwwww".  Sands has a lot of room to write more books in this series if she wanted because there are a load of single side-characters she could use (Ian, Will, Tralin, Tavis, etc.) so here's hoping.  The last two titles are sort-of misnomers - Merry doesn't need taming and Averill isn't a hellion.

I think I'll continue reading romance novels here and there.  I get them on my nook - I think the mass market size was a considerable turn off and the nook lets me make the print larger/size of book easier to handle.  I don't think I'll be expanding to paranormal romances (having supernatural vampires/were-whatevers/angels/demons/dragons that turn into hotties in my fiction has never been a huge draw for me) or western-themed or contemporary romances but I enjoy the historicals (so far, and as long as the anachronisms don't get too crazy).  I also really enjoy Sands's writing so I'll read more of her historicals (I've get a bit hooked on her style) then maybe look into some others.  We'll see.  Keeping myself entertained is the point.

03 November 2011

The Thirteen Clocks (New York Review Children's Collection)

The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber
If you are looking for a great read-aloud story, look no further than The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber.  I so clearly remember having this read to me in elementary school and read and read it on my own.  Who knows why I never asked my own copy, I didn't, but I can recite the opening paragraph nearly verbatim to this day:

Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales.
It's such a heart-felt fairy tale.  Who wouldn't want to root for Saralinda, for Prince Zorna to save her with help from the Golux?  Who doesn't wish for any one of Saralinda's suitors to outwit the evil Duke (who admits to the flaw of being wicked)?  Thurber's sly humor shows through and his words trip off the tongue - from "guggle to zatch" just rolls in my mouth.

The Thirteen Clocks is a lovely addition to the New York Review Children's Collection.  I spent a wet and cold evening huddled under the electric blankie reading it aloud to the cats - I think they liked it.  One can never tell with cats.

Here's a treat for fans of fantasy literature - the B&N Review recently featured an animated video of the first scene read by Neil Gaiman.  Worth both a watch and a listen.

01 November 2011

This is why I can't be allowed in the craft store alone...

...with coupons and credit cards.

Exhibit A:

I will make flower arrangements.



Exhibit B:

I will overdose on Martha Stewart papercrafting punches.  Entirely too fun.



Yes.  Those are sheep.  I will now be attaching little sheep to gifts of knitwear (it's a pretty small sheep - hey, Martha - any chance on making a bigger sheep punch?).

Exhibit C:

I will be crafting a Christmas tree to hang on the wall where it will be free of evil kittehs who want to knock it down and chew on the branches/needles/ornaments.  It's not done yet.  I promise pictures.

I think the crafting bug double-dosed me since I was moving during the holidays last year.

31 October 2011

'Tis the Season: But it's only Halloween!!

Yes.

Two, count 'em, TWO customers asked where our Christmas sales were at in the store.

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS LITTLE BABY JESUS - IT'S HALLOWEEN!!  GAH!!

Also, I have dealt with myriad "But I need to have that book read by tomorrow for school, why don't you have it?" whiners.  Standard answer:  "Because your fellow classmates beat you here, the University/JCollege/High School doesn't order your course books for this store, and it is available as an ebook."  I need a button that says "I am totally not responsible for your irresponsibility".

Other random gems:

  • A Dance With Dragons is so not available in paperback.  Yes, I know it weighs a lot and isn't cheap.  I have no control over either if we are talking books made of paper, ink, and paste.  If we are talking ebooks, it's maybe half the cost and the weight of only tens of thousands of bytes.  Your choice.
  • I don't care about your political views.  I sell the books.  I am highly unlikely to read book.  There are so many other better things to read.
  • I mended all the plush in the store last week and sewed all the hermit crabs back into their shells.  Totally worth it to watch customers warily approach the info desk when the bookseller standing there is armed with needles, pins, and oversize dressmakers' shears (I forgot the embroidery snips, oops) and barricaded by a pile of plush.

28 October 2011

Three Musketeers (in 3D!)

I wanted to see this movie ever since I saw it listed as "pre-production" on Logan Lehrman's IMDB page.  And wanted to see it more once I found out Christoph Waltz and Mads Mikkelsen were also attached.  And Matthew MacFadayen.

Then I saw a preview - good costumes, explosions, sword fighting...I am so in!

I checked out Rotten Tomatoes before we bought tickets and was disappointed to see that it has a 32% or something like that...aka pretty rotten.  Hmmmm...but I said I would be happy as long as there was some seriously kick-ass fancy swordwork and costumes.  We (aka mediazombie and I) went to a 7pm 3D showing because the 2D were at 5pm and 950pm (or something like that...seriously?) - my first "real" 3D movie experience because post-processed 3D usually makes me hurl.

And did I like The Three Musketeers?  Oh, hellz yes I did.  It was so much fun.  Logan Lehrman really does capture that "I am totally a big fish in the little pond of Gascony" attitude AND he does some great stuntwork in his two major swordfighting scenes.  The Three Musketeers (Matthew MacFadayen, Ray Stevenson, and Luke Evans) all bring different shades to their characters.  Christoph Waltz as Richelieu is a scary, scary man - would he stab you in the front or the back, do you think?  Orlando Bloom was great, really having fun playing a man who thinks he is an evil mastermind but really comes off as a greasy, 1920s, moustache-twirling, silent movie villain - absolutely hysterical.  Even smaller parts like Anne of Austria, Queen of France (Juno Temple), had some depth.  Milla Jovovitch was quite good as Milady, although sometimes the wire-work seemed a leeetle bit over the top, but I loved her exaggerated femininity and helpless-looking gestures.

As for the 3D - there wasn't much "stuff is coming at me!" nonsense and I liked that.  I really liked the 3D effects on those shots with great depth-of-field, so most of the exterior work looked great, as well as some great opening credits.  Loved some of the sets - especially those interior shots supposedly at the Royal Palace (did they shoot at one of the Palaces? If they didn't, and reconstructed parts of the Louvre, then the set designer gets some serious props).  Good costumes, too.  This movie was seriously "Go big or go home" - they went big.  It was great.

I totally want to see this again in the theatre - if Jackie wants to go, I'm all in!

Preview goodness:
pre-1.  Hugo - not a preview per se, more like an ad before the previews, but I'm including it because Scorsese gave some sound bites and there were plently of shots from the movie in it
1.  Tower Heist - heist comedy with Ben Stiller masterminding a group of buddies (?) trying to get back at a Bernie Madoff-type guy (Alan Alda); with Matthew Broderick and Eddie Murphy; hope this is good because Eddie needs a good flick
2.  Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows - this is so full of win, I don't know what to say - CAN'T WAIT UNTIL DECEMBER!!
3.  The Darkest Hour - yet another "put a group of pretty people together and they will *SURPRISE!* figure out how the world is ending" movie; only the pretty Americans are in Russia...and the only ones NOT to get exploded by wierd energy aliens in some Russian rave bar; we had to put our 3D glasses on for this preview and it was so NOT impressive (totally looks like a Roland Emmerich film but it's not)
4.  The Adventures of Tintin - Spielberg, meh; not interested in this one plus that life-like animation creeps me out
5.  Star Wars in 3D, starting with The Phantom Menace - oh, HELLZ NO!!  Please, God/George Lucas, let me enjoy Episodes IV - VI in peace without any updates, blu-ray, digitization, aka CRAP.  Stop robbing my childhood.

26 October 2011

Death and the Penguin

Viktor has a rather odd job - he writes "living obituaries".  That is, he interviews famous people then files the obituary to wait until the subject dies.  Viktor also has a rather odd pet.  He rescued a penguin from the Kiev Zoo.  He gets mixed up in the Russian mafia who take a supremely weird fancy to having the penguin attend their funerals.  He winds up minding the young daughter of a shady acquaintence.  Then his "living obituary" subjects begin dying at an alarming rate....

Death and the Penguin is a darkly comic novel.  Not funny ha-ha but funny in the way that Mikhail Bulgakov is funny.  For instance, Viktor's penguin is named Misha.  But then Viktor meets his shady acquaintence - also named Misha.  So ensues a section of the book where Misha-not-penguin is referred to.  The ending is also a surprise.

I'm not sure when I'll get to the next book - Penguin Lost - or any other Kurkov novels but I'm not averse.












25 October 2011

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters/Titan's Curse

More microreviews!

So, woefully behind on my Percy Jackson reading, I snarfed down books two and three during the Readathon.

Riordan does such a fantastic job of blending what is known of the classical Myth with the modern settings - the golden fleece, Atlas.  I loved the idea of Tyson, a loyal brother for Percy, and also of Thalia.  It was also really great to meet Annabeth's dad and the rest of her family.

Need to read books four and five (in my possession, as yet unread)!

24 October 2011

Shatter Me

Just a microreview, since this is all I have time for.  Definitely a great book to read for the readathon - kept me going, good set-up for a sequel.

I liked the style, using the strike-throughs to indicate how Juliette self-censors her thoughts as if retraining her thinking could fix her.

This book is the demented love-child of a three-way between The Hunger GamesX-Men, and The Fantastic Four (there is one overt Dr. Fantastic reference I could have done without at the end, but it's pretty minor).

Dear FTC: I received an ARC of this book - from exactly where I don't remember.  I think my store, could have been the publisher, too.

23 October 2011

All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin

I am a regular reader of the Yarn Harlot.  She's just what you need when your yarn, needles, and life in general have you in knots. 

And she has a new book:  All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin

Sadly, I've never met her.  Iowa has yet to figure on any of her book tours.  Le sigh.  Maybe once in my life I'll get lucky and I'll make it to Rhinebeck and she'll be there.  I might bring a washcloth with a Hawkeye on it.  Or perhaps an ear of corn....

Back to the book.  The topics Stephanie covers range from knitting in public, destashing when S.A.B.L.E (Stash Acquision Beyond Life Expectancy) looms, the paradoxical problem of swatching, growing daughters, and the ever-present love she holds for Sir Washie, her long-suffering washing machine.  The essays are drawn from her blog and expanded from some of her daily posts.  Her family has grown up over the course of her blog and previous essay collections (Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter and Free Range Knitter: The Yarn Harlot Writes Again) making this book a treat not just for knitters and crafters, but mothers, grandmothers, and anyone with a boisterous family and a century-old house.

Readathon 2011: Wrap-it up! #readathon

After a little make-up-for-sleep reading this morning I can call my readathon at an end!

I was too lazy to get up this morning so I read whatever was in my reach:  The Deed by Lynsay Sands (a re-read, but it was on the nightstand and it is amusing, very quick-to read) and then 16 pages of I, Juan de Pareja...at which point I knew I was readathonned out and in serious manuscipt-editing-withdrawal.  So I went to Lowe's and bought a new garbage disposal and kitchen faucet (and Lowe's is installing them for me because I got a deal on having both done at once) then to Capanna to edit without the cats attaching themselves to my laptop.

But I am mega-satisfied with the number of books read and my page count!



Books read/finished (in order, bottom up, finished books in the left, partials on the right):
  • All Wound Up  (201 pages)
  • Best American Short Stories, intro and first three stories (74 pages)
  • Shatter Me (342 pages)
  • The Sea of Monsters (279 pages)
  • The Titan's Curse (312 pages)
  • Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
  • The Deed (372 pages)
  • I, Juan de Pareja (16 pages)
TOTAL PAGE COUNT: 1824 pages (huzzah! and holy cats!  No wonder my eyeballs were ready to drop out of my head!)

I finished six books (six more books added to my Goodreads Challenge to read 100 books this year!) and started two more.  Not too shabby!

Can't wait for the next 'thon and I hope I can participate (maybe I'll have a mini-readathon the next weekend I am not working).

Oh, and I toted all my stuff this weekend in this:



My super-awesome Penguin totebag which sums up this weekend perfectly:

Readathon 2011: Update #3 #readathon

730pm:  Started Titan's Curse

10pm:  Finished Titan's Curse (pity I have no more Percy Jackson books in the house)
Made more tea
Fed the obnoxious furballs who would not stop whining

1030pm:  Started Death and the Penguin

12am:  Finished Death and the Penguin (sad, absurd, and funny all at the same time)

And now, I'm sorta beat

I think I'll sleep now then do some make-up hours like I did the last time I participated.  I worked pretty well.

22 October 2011

Readathon 2011: Update #2 #readathon

1pm: scanned most of the to-read-for-Readathon pile into Goodreads (lamentable oversight)
Started Best American Short Stories 2011 edited by Geraldine Brooks, read 19 pages of introduction (marginally boring)

2pm: have read first three short stories (about 56+ pages) and now need a break from short stories (usual occurence)
time for a PBJ and a new book: SHATTER ME (which has an awesome quote on pg 71 of the galley, will share later)

5pm:  just finished SHATTER ME and it is AWESOME
attempt to make coffee - find that the coffee filter holder has some oogie fur in it
make tea instead while coffee maker bits are marinating in the sink - Twining's Lady Grey
discuss SHATTER ME a little with Pam on Twitter (I believe I called the book a whimsical and deadly child of 1984 and XMEN, or something like that)

520pm:  settle back in with tea and Percy Jackson #2 Sea of Monsters
(also, blue recliner scavenged from my parents' house is actually quite nice for reading until Dante-the-fatter-kitty decides to sit on the footrest and the chair starts to tip forward)

730pm:  Sea of Monsters is DONE! Fun!
Break to start pizza and update the blog!

Readathon 2011: Update #1 #readathon

7am:  Sleeping

8am:  Sleeping

9am:  Woken by hungry cats giving me a wet willie.  Cats pacified with food and fresh water so I decide to wake up fully and go foraging for breakfast and snacks.  Wearing yesterday's makeup, but I did brush my hair and put my contacts in (it's pretty sunny out, so I'll need my sunglasses).
Reading:  All Wound Up, starting page 34

10am:  Eating breakfast at Bruegger's and thinking that it might be colder indoors than out (only about 50 degrees outside) and watching silly people walking to the football game
Reading:  All Wound Up, starting page 40
Off to Target for food, cat litter, and a trip past the bookstore so I can get my triple mint white mocha with my employee discount and apologize to Jackie for the deplorable state of the store when it opened (I did enough work for three people last night because the others were slacking, oy vey).

1130am:  Back home and in my jammies.  Time to read, read, read!
Reading:  All Wound Up, starting page 58
12pm:  Break to find some lemon Yoplait (yum)
Reading:  All Wound Up, starting page 124
The cats, rather than sleeping like I'm sure they normally do during the day, are working on their applications for World's Most Annoying House Pets.  Chaucer-the-bottomless-pit has twice tried to break into the Cheerios box and then walked all over my back, yowling at the top of his lungs.  There is food in the food dish - I checked.  Pest.
Finished:  All Wound Up, page 235 @ 1256pm

1pm:  Quick blog update, find the cats' catnip mousie, and back to reading!

21 October 2011

Dewey's 24 hour Readathon 2011: I'm in!

Having missed last year's Readathon due to travel, I almost missed this year's 'thon due to inattentiveness.

Surprise, right, since I'm having trouble keeping my head on straight.  But!  I have signed up just in time (holy cats, there are over 400 readers!) and, by some miracle, I don't have a bookstore shift in the middle.  Yay!  I will have to run out for food tomorrow (advance planning = fail) but I did round up a stack of books to work through (advance planning = win):


Yikes!  Quite a stack, right?  You are thinking I am crazy, no?

Well, I tend to count my Readathons in total number of pages read, not just books, and I often take the opportunity to knock off half-finished things.  Also, there are MG/YA books in this stack due to my woefully neglected Newbery Project - they read mucho rapido.  Thirdly, I have the attention span of a gnat right now and I may have to jump around from book to book depending on interest.  I don't want to waste time staring at the 1000s of books in my house, trying to make up my mind.

Projected titles, top-to-bottom (not reading order, this is just so the stack wouldn't fall over):
  • All Wound Up: The Yarn Harlot Writes for a Spin by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (in progress)
  • Best American Short Stories 2011 edited by Geraldine Brooks (Best American Project)
  • Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi (galley I picked up from work that Pam loves TONS)
  • The Sea of Monsters and The Titan's Curse by Rick Riordan (yeah, yeah, I got behind on my Percy Jackson reading)
  • Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov (because I want my store to adopt a penguin)
  • Spindle's End by Robin McKinley
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (Newbery, but I have the cool HarperPerennial cover)
  • The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (Newbery)
  • Crispin by Avi (Newbery)
  • The View From Saturday by E.L. Konigsberg (Newbery)
  • I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de TreviƱo (Newbery)
  • Vintage-looking "Natural History of Birds" journal that I write all my Newbery Vocab in (I will not be reading this, obviously)
  • Second Reading by Jonathan Yardley (in progress)
  • Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd (in progress)
  • Needles and Pearls by Gil McNeil
  • McSweeney's Joke Book of Book Jokes (because it has been hanging around the house too long)
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes (for the book, in progress)
  • Das Niebelungenlied translated by Burton Raffel (for the book, in progress)
  • The White Devil by Justin Evans (galley I requested ages ago - sorry)
  • Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson (galley I requested ages ago - sorry)
Something I will be trying very hard NOT to read: my dratted manuscript (mostly through draft version #6 - it will perhaps be ready for eyes other than mine by draft #10...perhaps not)

19 October 2011

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Shirley Jackson is the supreme ruler of pschyological fiction.

Don't believe me?  Haven't read The Lottery?  Or The Haunting of Hill House (movie versions with Liam Neeson don't count)?

Then you ought to read We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

The Blackwood family is so many ways of messed up.  What is left of the family (Connie, Uncle Julius, and Merricat) lives in their huge house, fenced off from the town, after Connie is acquitted of fatally poisoning the other four family members with arsenic six years ago.

It was in the sugar.  For the berries.

Cousin Charles shows up to help the girls "move on" and stop living in isolation/being fodder for the local gossips (so he says).  For a little while, it seems he might be successful.  Then everything goes completely wrong.

This book constantly keeps a reader on his or her toes - mostly due to the fact that the book is narrated entirely by Merricat (Mary Katherine).  At eighteen years of age and either immature or unbalanced (draw your own conclusions), Merricat is an unreliable narrator at best.  She has odd rituals and practices sympathetic magic.  Things happen when she's around.  Creepy.  Forboding.

My edition, the Penguin Deluxe Classic, has an introduction by Jonathan Lethem and fantastic cover art by Thomas Ott.  The cover alone is worth buying the book.

15 October 2011

Jane Austen Made Me Do it

Janeites take their Jane Austen seriously.  She is "my Jane" in a way that Charles Dickens will never be "my Charles" (er, icky).  I'm a bit picky about Austen variations/sequels/modernizations/also-rans.  Well, a lot picky.  In short, I don't like many.

I heard about the publication of Jane Austen Made Me Do It through Lauren Willig, she of the Pink Carnation series.  Lauren, of course, had a piece in the book so I decided that it was worth a look.

And a purchase.  Edited by Laurel Ann of Austenprose, there are stories in this anthology to suit any taste.  Do you like straight-up sequels? "Nothing Less than Fairy-land" by Monica Fairview looks in on Hartfield after Emma's wedding (and even captures Miss Bates's breathless, pitter-patter way of speaking).  Or a sequel to an homage?  "Me and Mr. Darcy, Again..." by Alexandra Potter.  How about a little absurdist humor ala Jasper Fforde?  "Intolerable Stupidity" by Laurie Viera Rigler.  Perspective from a different character?  "Letters to Lydia" by Maya Slater.  A little ghost story?  Perhaps "The Ghostwriter" by Elizabeth Aston.

I personally liked Lauren's story, "A Night at Northanger", which introduces us to Cate (who also figures in the modern frame of her most recent Pink novel, The Garden Intrigue, pubbing February 2012).  We meet poor Cate, stuck "investigating" haunted houses as an assitant on Ghost Trekkers, who gets the surprise of her life when she stays one night at Northanger Abbey.  The story has Lauren's signature funny asides and is a great Band-aid for those of us drooling for the next Pink book.

I also quite liked "Jane Austen and the Mistletoe Kiss" by Jo Beverley.  The story uses the basic frame of Sense and Sensibility (as well as a few names) and a theme from Northanger Abbey.  Elinor, a widowed, formerly well-off mother with three daughters, is given the point-of-view in a story about finding happiness and Christmas romance, with a little advice from that wicked novelist Jane Austen.

My favorite story, though, involves Sense and Sensibility and the Beatles.  Yes, the Beatles.  "Jane Austen, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah!" by Janet Mullany is set in 1964.  Julie Morton is a low-on-the-totem-pole-of-Cleverton High-School-for-Girls teacher of who, unfortunately, draws detention duty with three Beatles obsessed girls.  The students landed in detention for, you guessed it, telling their English teacher what they thought of Sense and Sensibility: stupid, and all the characters are silly cows.  Julie, taking inspiration from the girls' obsession with John, Paul, Ringo, and George, does a bit of literary analysis to show her students that, perhaps, classic literature does have a place right next to Beatlemania (there's also a good feminist side-plot, too).

11 October 2011

The Best American Essays 2011

This is a very well-curated selection of essays.  Danticat did a beautiful job winnowing the submissions to heart-felt essays (even the informational ones).  Two favorites were seeming opposites: "What Broke My Father's Heart" by Katy Butler and "Topic of Cancer" by Christopher Hitchens.  Riveting.

09 October 2011

Inverted World

Christopher Priest's Inverted World is a very scientifically-grounded dystopic novel (the afterword classifies Inverted World as a Hard SF novel but it doesn't seem that way at first; it seems more typical of a dystopic novel but about halfway through the Hard SF elements start poking their way through).

A walled city is being winched through a devastated landscape on rails.  The rails must be laid before it and taken up after.  The city is forever in chase of The Optimum.  To halt is to fall victim to a crushing gravitational pull.

Helward Mann is our guide to this world.  When he takes the oath to become a Future Surveyor, he is inducted to all the secrets normally kept from the city population.  The dystopic novel was previous to this point, now it's Hard SF's turn.

History, geography, and physics all come into play.  Is this world truly inverted, that only the enlightened of the city will follow the Optimum and avoid death, or are those in the city chasing a truly delusional vision?

05 October 2011

The Night Circus

I love  the concept of The Night Circus - a black-and-white, Cirque du Soleil-like circus that materializes overnight and is filled with tents both awe-inspiring and whimsical.  Traditional acts - trapeze artists, contortionists, big cats - are interspersed with a tent of strange bottles, a memorial tree filled with candles, and a forest made of ice and snow.

At the heart of this circus is a contest of magical education - Celia and Markus are pitted against one another in a mysterious, ill-defined age-old contest of magical illusion. 

The narrative thread in The Night Circus is broken into three parts:  a "real-time" narrative that follows Celia and Markus and the development of the circus, a "later" narrative that follows a Massachusetts farm boy, Bailey, who becomes obsessed with Le Cirque de Reves whose story to whose story the "real-time" narrative gradually catches up to, and a "free-floating" narrative that drops chapters describing the various tents intbetween the other narratives (this is a more "modern" line and it is narrated in the 2nd person - "you" - as if the book is narrating the reader's movement through the circus).

This is a very atmospheric book. Morgenstern sets a scene so well, with very visual, auditory, and olfactory (could do without so many caramel-apple smells, though) description.  There is an exquisite scene between Celia and Markus where they create visions for one another - including a forest of paper trees with love scenes from books written on the trunks.  The writing is just that evocative (Morgenstern is a visual artist as well and it shows in her world building).

I enjoyed this book - the concepts, the evocations in individual chapters - but the book didn't blow my mind, much as I wanted it to.  I lost the thread of the plot several times and, had I not been listening 10 minutes at a time in the car on audiobook, I might have set it aside to read later.  Without spoiling specifics, I was a little disappointed in the denouement - some of the plot was clever and some failed to explain anything.  I kept wishing all the magical tents were real and that I knew more than I did about the different cards of the tarot (points to Morgenstern for not over-explaining things like that).

Audiobook specific observation: Jim Dale (the narrator) says "thank you" weird, like he bites off the "you" and gives it a bit an "r" on the end...and it cuts across all of his accents. This is an annoyance I heard on the Harry Potter audio, too. Also, there are American characters who should have New England/Boston accents yet he chose to give them English-ish accents. Sorta odd (although not as odd as the rather nasal Gaelic accents of Poppet and Widget...annoying).